Efforts to win the return of 17 members of a US-based missionary group and a local driver stretched into a fourth day on Wednesday, with a violent gang demanding $1 million ransom per person.
The group seized includes five children aged from 8 months to 15 years, although authorities were not clear whether the ransom demand included them, a top Haitian official said on Tuesday.
Sixteen of the abductees are Americans and one Canadian.
The FBI and other US agencies were “part of a coordinated US government effort” to free the missionaries, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday, though officials from Haiti, the US and the church group involved were silent about sensitive details.
A wave of kidnappings has added to the other miseries besetting the Caribbean nation. At least 119 people were kidnapped in Haiti for the first half of October, according to the Center of Analysis and Research of Human Rights, a local nonprofit group.
It said that in addition to the 17 members of the missionary group, a Haitian driver was abducted along with them, bringing the total to 18.
Demand of ransom
The Haitian official, who was not authorised to speak to the press, told The Associated Press that someone from the 400 Mawozo gang made the ransom demand on Saturday in a call to a leader of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries shortly after the abduction.
“This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti,” the Ohio group said on Tuesday, adding that the missionaries worked most recently on a project to help rebuild homes lost in a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti on August 14.
The group was returning from visiting an orphanage when it was abducted, the organization said.
The kidnapping was the largest of its kind reported in recent years.
Haitian gangs have grown more brazen as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.
Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children. A sign on the door at the organisation’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.